Thursday, May 22, 2008

Charlotte Mason, Montessori, and Early Schooling

This thread at the 4Real Forums on Montessori and Waldorf sent me on a Charlotte Mason rabbit trail ... I knew that Charlotte Mason once sent a letter to The Times expressing her views on Montessori education, but had never seen it. The link to the original text is broken, but at Bona Vita Rusticanda Est the blog author has posted an extensive paraphrase.

Ideas about early education, particularly Waldorf and Montessori, have been flitting around in my head again lately. Aspects of both attract me - sometimes in quite contradictory ways - and reading Charlotte Mason's thoughts has helped me to get mine in order. I'll write more about this later, but for now I just wanted to post some quotes.

These two made me want to send bold-print, shouted emails to the scarily named Department for Children, Schools and Families, which is heavily pushing early schooling and an early literacy agenda. (Incidentally I don't agree that early literacy is the main appeal of Montessori education - though that may have been the case at the time CM was writing.)

"Her children can read and write by age four or five, while our own children don't master those skills until age eight. That's what appeals to us about her method. But we forget that education is more than the mechanics of reading and writing. Such skills don't educate any more than mastering shorthand, or Morse Code. But we get excited thinking that, by teaching these mechanics earlier, we'll gain two or three years of school life."

No child under the age of six should go to a school that doesn't allow him the full freedom to run, or squat, or lay face down on the floor if the mood strikes him."
(paraphrase of CM's letter to the Times)
The next quotes are taken from Home Education (vol.1 of the CM Series) and come from the Ambleside Online Year 0 page:
"Let him go and come freely, let him touch real things, and combine his impressions for himself, instead of sitting indoors at a little round table while a sweet-voiced teacher suggests that he build a stone wall with his wooden blocks, or make a rainbow out of strips of coloured paper, or plant straw trees in bead flower-pots. Such teaching fills the mind with artificial associations that must be got rid of before the child can develop indepndent ideas out of actual experiences." (p.196)

'A child will have taught himself to paint, paste, cut paper, knit, weave, hammer and saw, make lovely things in clay and sand, build castles with his bricks; possibly too, will have taught himself to read, write, and do sums, besides acquiring no end of knowledge and notions about the world he lives in, by the time he is six or seven. What I contend for is that he shall do these things because he chooses (provided that the standard of perfection in his small works be set before him)." (p.194)

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